Transcendental Utopias: Individual and Community at Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Walden

Transcendental Utopias: Individual and Community at Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Walden

Transcendental Utopias: Individual and Community at Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Walden

Transcendental Utopias: Individual and Community at Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Walden

Synopsis

New England Transcendentalism was a vibrant and many-sided movement whose members are probably best remembered for their utopian experiments, their attempts to reconcile the contingent world of history with what they perceived as the stable and patterned world of nature. Francis suggests that at the heart of Transcendentalism was a belief that all phenomena are connected in a repetitive sequence. The task was to explain how human society could be reordered to benefit from this seriality.

Excerpt

In the introduction to The American Renaissance,F. O. Matthiessen writes that his subject is the artistic achievement of the mid-nineteenth century in America, particularly the way in which the great practitioners fused form and content. As if worried that his monumental study might not be regarded as adequate, he goes on to confess that there were two other books that he might have written but had not. The first of these would have been called The Age of Swedenborg, and it would have dealt with the way the midcentury had "embraced the subjective philosophy that 'the soul makes its own world.' " That subjective philosophy, however, had objective repercussions. The individual's sense of self-worth made him conscious of his social rights, and this awareness in turn made possible Orestes Brownson's extraordinary anticipation of "some of the Marxist analysis of the class controls of action." The unwritten book necessary to explore these and related issues Matthiessen calls The Age of Fourier. These two (non) titles point to what Sacvan Bercovitch has more recently termed, in his discussion of Emerson in The Puritan Origins of the American Self, "the paradox of a literature devoted at once to the exaltation of the individual and the search for a perfect community."

This paradox is the central problem one encounters when confronting the thought of the New England Transcendentalists. The most obvious way to view it is in terms of the duality of subjective and objective worlds, of the internal vis-à-the external. This dichotomy manifests itself in many of the actual titles of works devoted to participants in the movement, classic studies such as Stephen Whicher Freedom and Fate: An Inner Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson . . .

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